Travel is a Privilege

Let’s face it: not everyone is able to travel. Whether it’s money, family obligations, or circumstance, travel is out of reach for a large percentage of the world’s population. In the “quit your job to travel the world” cheerleading that happens so often on travel websites (including this one), we often forget that it’s not easy for everyone. Years on the road have shown me that for many of us, our inability to travel is part a mindset issue (since we believe travel is expensive, we don’t look for ways to make it cheaper) and part a spending issue (we spend money on things we don’t need). There are those for whom no mindset change, spending cuts, or budget tips will help them travel — those who are too sick, have parents or children to care for, face great debt, or work three jobs just to make rent. After all, 2.8 billion people — nearly 40% of the world’s population — survive on less than $2 USD a day! In my home country of the United States, 14% of the population is below the poverty line, 46 million people are on food stamps, many have to work two jobs to get by, and we have a trillion dollars in student debt dragging people down. Nothing any website can say will magically make travel a reality for those people. Those of us who do travel are a privileged few. Whether we quit our jobs to travel the world, spend two months in Europe, or take our kids on a short vacation to Disney World, we get to experience something most people of the world will never get a chance to do.

We overlook that too much. As I’ve started building FLYTE — a foundation to help high schools take economically disadvantaged students on educational trips overseas — I’ve thought a lot about privilege. I grew up in a predominately white, middle-class town with parents who paid my college tuition. I had a job after college that allowed me to live on my own, take vacations, and still save for my first trip around the world. And, because I speak English, I easily found work teaching English in Thailand, where I could save to extend my travels. That’s not to say that hard work doesn’t count, but hard work doesn’t exist in a bubble — the circumstances that create the opportunities for hard work to bear fruit are often more important. I’ve met people of all ages, incomes, abilities, and nationalities on the road. Folks like Don and Alison, who are backpacking the world at 70; Michael, who worked 60-hour weeks at a minimum-wage job; Cory, who travels the world in a wheelchair; Ishwinder, who didn’t let visa restrictions stop him; and countless others. But even they had circumstances that allowed them to travel — support from family and friends, jobs that allowed for overtime, or other skills. They weren’t barely getting by or on social assistance. They didn’t wonder if they could afford their next meal. So it’s important to remember that we are some of the lucky ones. We get to do something that others will never be able to do. We are privileged. Even if you’ve hitchhiked around the world with no money, worked overseas, cut costs to travel around the world on $10 USD a day, or travel-hacked your way to a first-class ticket, you have the opportunity to do something most people go to sleep only dreaming about. You have the freedom and choice to move about the world in a way most people don’t.

Why Travel Makes You Awesome

People always ask how travel has changed me. If I look back at who I was before I began traveling and compare that to who I am now, I would have to say that travel has made me a better and more well-rounded person. I’m way cooler now than I was at 25 when I first left to explore the world.

Simply put, I’m a lot more awesome now than I used to be.

In fact, I think travel makes everybody a more awesome person. We end our travels way better off than when we started. I’m not saying this to be conceited or egotistical; I’m saying it because I believe that travel is something that makes you not only a better human being but a way cooler one too. The kind of person people gravitate toward and want to be around.

You become like the Dos Equis guy.

How and why does travel make you more awesome? Let me count the ways:

More social – It’s sink or swim on the road. You either get better at making friends or you end up alone, crying each night into a pillow. You learn to make friends out of strangers and get more comfortable talking to new people. When I first started traveling, I was kind of an introvert and uncomfortable talking to those I didn’t know. Now, I’ll happily talk to strangers like we’ve been best friends for years.

Better at conversation – Travel not only makes you comfortable talking to strangers, it makes you better at it too. After talking to people all the time, the same questions get boring. You start to even bore yourself. After a while, you don’t care about where people are from, where they are going, how long they’ve been traveling, and yada yada yada. Those kinds of questions don’t actually tell you anything about the person. You’ll get better at small talk and how to ask interesting questions — the ones that matter and tell you more about the person.

More confident – You’ve traveled the world. Hiked Mt. Everest. Dived the Great Barrier Reef. Wined and dined that beautiful French girl in Paris, navigated unknown cities, and conquered your fear of heights. In short, you did awesome things. How can you not be more confident? How can you not be sure about your abilities? After accomplishing so much, you’re going to feel a lot more confident in your ability to achieve anything you set your mind to.

More adaptable – You’ve dealt with missed flights, slow buses, wrong turns, delays, bad street food, and much, much more. After a while, you learn how to adapt your plans to changing situations. You don’t get mad, you don’t get angry; you just alter what you are doing and move on. Life throws you curve balls and you hit them out of the park. Why? Because you’re awesome like that.

More adventurous – When you become confident in your ability to do anything, you do anything. Last week in Austin, Texas, despite not liking spicy food, I ate the world’s hottest pepper and some pure capsicum extract. Why? Because I wanted to. What’s the purpose of life if not to break out of your comfort zone? My mouth was on fire for ages, but I’d do it again.

More easy-going – All those mistakes? They did something else for you, too. They made you more easy-going and relaxed. Why? Because you’ve dealt with all those errors and you don’t care. You go with the flow now, because if travel taught you anything, it’s that it all works out in the end and that there’s no need to stress.

Sexier – Stress causes aging. Those carefree, relaxing days on the road are going to make you more confident and radiant, and you’ll age slower. You’ll look young and sexy. Unless you are George Clooney, who definitely got better with age.

Smarter – Unless you sit at a resort drowning your brain in frozen drinks, travel will teach you about the world. You’ll learn about people, history, and culture, and arcane facts about places some people could only dream about. In short, you’ll have a better understanding about how it works and how people behave. That’s something that can’t be learned from books; you can only pick it up with on-the-road experience.

Less materialistic – On the road, you learn just how little stuff you actually need. You’ll realize that all that crap they sell at the mall is pretty useless in leading a truly happy life. Coming home, you’ll find yourself a minimalist simply because you realize what you need to live and what you don’t. As they say, the more you own, the more it owns you.

Happier – Travel simply teaches you how to be happy. You’ll become more relaxed, more confident, and see the world as a brighter place. How can you not be happy about life after all of that?

Think about all the famous, successful people in the world. How many of these qualities do those people exhibit? A lot. Why? Because being outgoing, funny, social, happy, confident, and smart are all qualities that make people more successful in everyday life.

Travel makes people better people. When you learn more about the world and the people in it, push your boundaries, and try new things, you become a more open, outgoing, and awesome person. All the people I’ve known who have traveled are better people because of it.

With all the ways a trip can make you more of an awesome person, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be planning your next adventure now — whether it’s around the world or just a short, two-week vacation to Mexico.

You can sit at home, wishing you were somewhere exotic, having fun, and doing something cool.